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Iqbal: MILF remains a revolutionary group

MILF File photo

MANILA, Philippines - The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) remains a revolutionary organization despite its peace agreement with the government.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chairman, made this clear yesterday to justify the decision of the group’s leaders not to attend a Senate hearing on the deadly clash between its men and police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25.

“Please bear with us as we engage the institution of the Philippine Senate officially for the first time. The MILF is a revolutionary organization. While we may have signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government after 18 years of intermittent war and negotiations, that peace agreement has yet to be implemented,” Iqbal said in a statement read before the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs by Rasid Ladiasan, chairman of the MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.

“Until the peace agreement is fully implemented, we will remain to be a revolutionary organization,” Iqbal said. The letter is dated Feb. 9.

In its statement, the MILF also promised to return the weapons, equipment and personal belongings taken by its fighters from the 44 slain members of the police Special Action Force (SAF).

Iqbal said that while the MILF central committee has authorized him to represent the group in public hearings, his appearance would only be allowed in an executive session and only after the rebel group concludes its own investigation into the Mamasapano incident.

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He said the findings of the MILF Special Investigation Commission “will be the basis of my statements to the relevant committees of the Senate.”

It was also Ladiasan who represented the MILF in last Monday’s hearing on the issue by the Senate panel chaired by Sen. Grace Poe.

Senators reacted strongly to Iqbal’s statement, with Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano saying the MILF’s refusal to send representatives to the Senate was a “tactical move” by the group.

“I cannot accept that the hearings here would continue and they will take their time and then attend later,” he said.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Iqbal’s pronouncement that the MILF is still a revolutionary movement was in direct contradiction to what the Senate committee on local government was told during the hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

“They are saying that we are in a peace process and there is an end to hostilities. But they are now saying they are still a revolutionary organization and that is inconsistent,” Marcos said.

“To remain as a revolutionary entity is contradictory because supposed to be the disarmament process has already started,” he said.

Marcos said the MILF should clarify such statement and that the government should double check if it is still at war with the rebel group.

“We just want to clarify because we want to know on what basis we are talking here. Can we now assume that we are still at war with the MILF?” Marcos said.

“This passage from the letter of chairman Iqbal is rather alarming. This is an alarming development that we have returned to war with the MILF,” he said.

“That is worrisome and I hope that the chairman will find time to come and explain what this language means,” he added.

Marcos said the fact that Iqbal had skipped two hearings “is damaging already.”

“What that’s saying is the first part of any negotiation is communication. If there is no communication there can be no peace process. So if there is no communication and they continue to snub the hearings, then there’s no peace process,” Marcos said.

Cayetano and Sen. Francis Escudero objected to a suggestion from Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles that they discuss the concerns over MILF’s link to terror groups in an executive session.

“I don’t think the MILF is here to speak and I don’t think it is right and I will not sit down and listen to it, for the (government) panel to be the one to speak for and on behalf of the MILF on this issue. Let them speak up and defend themselves when they come here,” Escudero said.

 

Returning weapons

In his letter, Iqbal said “the MILF has decided to return the firearms and any retrievable personal effects of the fallen SAF-PNP in deference to the peace process and the recognition of the MILF that it never wanted that unfortunate incident on Jan. 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao to happen.”

He said the Mamasapano clash was the first time since the 2011 encounter between government and MILF forces. “Perhaps, in a couple of days, the MILF will be able to finish the internal process of accounting of the materials to pave the way for their return,” Iqbal said.

Asked by Senate President Franklin Drilon about reports that some of the SAF members’ firearms had already been sold, Ladiasan said that he had no information regarding the matter.

Ladiasan also said he couldn’t say when exactly the MILF would return the stolen weapons.

Poe said Iqbal’s presence would have enabled the committee to hear from the MILF a categorical response to concerns over its involvement in the Mamasapano incident.

“Were you informed by the peace panel that you should engage or disengage? These are questions that can only be answered by your top leadership,” Poe told Ladiasan.

Government peace panel chairman Miriam Coronel-Ferrer emphasized that the government is not at war with the MILF.

“On that issue of whether MILF remains a revolutionary organization or not, we have to see it in the (light) of the entire peace process. We are not at war with them, precisely we have a ceasefire,” Ferrer said.

But Cayetano said that until such time that the MILF can show that it has absolutely no more links with terrorists and terrorist groups, it would always be suspected of coddling them.

“It is the obligation of the MILF to prevent the entry of terrorists and criminals into their areas and if there are any present, they should help us go after them,” Cayetano said. “So more than whether we coordinated with each other and more than if we coordinate with the MILF, the bigger question for this hearing, why are the MILF territories becoming the haven for terrorism here in Asia? This will be in the heart of the decision whether to have a BBL or not.”

 

Piqued by terror tag

The senator’s insinuation that the MILF is a terror group in disguise further raised tension during the hearing.

Cayetano asked Ferrer if she was familiar with a policy of the government against negotiating with terrorists.

Ferrer promptly responded that the MILF “is not listed on any terrorist list,” and that “the government policy is to negotiate with the armed groups that are fighting the government.”

“Please answer my question simply. All governments around the world, the policy is not to negotiate with terrorists. If the peace panel does not know that, we’re in trouble,” Cayetano said.

“What is the policy of the Republic of the Philippines? Do we negotiate with terrorists?” he added.

Ferrer replied that she is “not aware of any such policy.”

“May I put it on record we are in trouble because the peace negotiators do not even know that we cannot negotiate with terrorists,” Cayetano said.

Deles told Cayetano that the MILF has been cooperating with the government since the resumption of the peace talks in 2003.

“The policy decision of government to negotiate with the MILF since 2003 has always been accompanied by dependable, rigorous Philippine intelligence,” Deles said. “And certainly this will not be allowed and every time terrorist acts may have been seen as possibly being associated with them, certainly this has always been raised,” she said.

“What the reality is, we have come to this point of a comprehensive agreement where the MILF agreed to go through a legal legislative process, fully understanding what that means and I think you will see the statements that have been made by the MILF of the full respect for the Congress in its legislative prerogative and that there would be a transformation and all of that are happening now,” she added.

Cayetano said the MILF has a lot more to do to prove its commitment to peace.

“I admire Secretary Deles, your want for peace. But the MILF has to want it also. They have to give up also their being revolutionary. But they are killing our police and military and then they say they want peace. I will stand pat that right now the reason we are here and the reason why we are mourning is because of the MILF and how they coddled terrorists,” he said.

Ladiasan said the MILF has sacrificed enough in its pursuit of peace and does not deserve to be called a terror organization.

“We have been fighting terrorism in all forms through the peace process,” Ladiasan said, his voice quivering.

He also emphasized that the MILF is not allied with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which is espousing secession.

“We will not sacrifice more than 17 years our people have suffered,” he said. He said he lived through martial law and wouldn’t want to miss an “opportunity” for lasting peace.

 

Based on evidence

In an interview over dzRH, MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said they wanted to wait for the results of their probe on the Mamasapano incident before deciding to attend congressional hearings.

“We want our statements to be backed by facts. We want to be factual and we do not want to talk about hearsay,” Jaafar said in Filipino.

“It would be hard for us to attend the hearings until we receive the results of the MILF investigation,” he added.

The House of Representatives is expected to start its own inquiry today.

Jaafar said he could not say when the MILF would conclude its investigation.

He also brushed aside criticisms that the MILF is not responding to the issue.

“With due respect to the claims of the public that they do not know our position, since that incident happened, we have been granting interviews day and night,” he said.

When asked to react to claims that the BBL would be held hostage if the MILF leadership insists on skipping the hearings, Jaafar said: “That also means that the peace in Mindanao would also be held hostage.”

The fate of the BBL now hangs in the balance as lawmakers have suspended deliberations on the measure due to the Mamasapano incident.

Jaafar insisted that the MILF has been showing sincerity in its pursuit of peace since negotiations with the government started 17 years ago.

“The problem is every time something happens, Muslims and Bangsamoros are judged immediately,” the MILF official said.

Meanwhile, Jaafar denied the claim of relieved SAF chief Director Getulio Napeñas that more than 200 MILF members died during the Mamasapano clash.

Jaafar insisted that only 18 MILF fighters were killed and 14 injured in the clash.

“In clashes like this, sometimes those who are involved thought that a person was hit even if he wasn’t,” he said. – Alexis Romero

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